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Continuing Uncertainty in Kinshasa after Shoot-out with Alleged Coup Plotters - 2004-06-14


Three days after an alleged coup attempt in Kinshasa, Congo, few details have emerged about Friday's events. But following a shoot-out over the weekend in the capital, the government says the alleged ringleader may have returned to town.

Despite being encircled twice by government forces, Major Eric Lenge, the officer in charge of the renegade Presidential Guard soldiers that attempted a coup last week, appears to still be on the run.

During the weekend, the presidential spokesman said that Major Lenge had fled to the west and was hiding in a forest in the province of Bas Congo.

But following a shoot-out early Sunday in Kinshasa's leafy suburb of Gombe, home to many ambassadors and the president, spokesman Vital Kamerhe said the government suspected that Major Lenge had returned to town.

Mr. Kamerhe said that eight men in uniform hijacked a vehicle before engaging security forces in a fire fight, killing one soldier. Then, as the alleged coup plotters tried to escape by boat, the security services opened fire.

He added that an investigation is under way to confirm the identities of the assailants and establish where they went.

A virtual news blackout has left Kinshasa's residents and newspapers trying to work out what exactly happened during and after the coup attempt.

The 12 men arrested Friday on suspicion of having been involved in the coup have not yet appeared in public.

The bizarre chain of events is fueling speculation at street level, and also among analysts and international observers, that the coup may not have been a genuine attempt to seize power.

Conspiracy theories are multiplying that the coup attempt was, in fact, staged by the government.

Some accuse those close to President Joseph Kabila of being involved as a means to try to justify declaring a state of emergency, thereby increasing the power of the head of state. Others say that hard-line members of President Kabila's clique, worried about losing power and influence in the power-sharing transitional government, may have staged the attack to make the president look weak.

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